Social Networking in HR

I attended the monthly Portland HR Management Assoc. (PHRMA) luncheon yesterday, and the speaker was Isaac Dixon, the current HR Leader at Lewis & Clark College, who has over 25 years experience in HR!  The topic was “Pro’s and Con’s of Social Networking“.  The luncheons are always held at DoubleTree Hotel in Portland, usually on the 2nd floor.  Yesterday when I entered the banquet entrance of the hotel 10 minutes before the start, I noticed a line at one of the large rooms on the first floor.  Each time I have attended previoius luncheon’s, they have always been on the 2nd floor but to my surprise, the line on the first floor was for the PHRMA luncheon.  I learned later that there were over 300 people in attendance, and not all HR professionals!  I met some Sales & CPA’s there…all to listen Mr. Dixon talk about social networking!  Such a “hot” topic in HR.

I was pleasantly surprised that the main focus was not the “con’s” as I have heard at other presentations.  Yes various social networking sites such as facebook, myspace, twitter, etc. can be tempting for employees to abuse while at work while, decreasing performance as well as possibility of employees, intentionally or unintentionally, posting defamatory or confidential remarks about the company or company employees, perhaps exposing the company to liability(s).  However Mr. Dixon used the beginning of his presentation to emphasize the rapid increase of social networking, the demographics of people using it (for example, he mentioned there are over 250 million facebook users, 1/2 of them are “active” or login daily and that the fastest growing segment of population is NOT teenagers or young adults, but women over 50 years old!!).    His main point at the introduction – social networking is here to stay, no use in trying to stop it!!  Instead, HR should try to channel the energy into positive communication and other strategies for the company.

The presentation moved to the Advantages (pro’s) and Disadvantages (con’s) of social media, some that I may have thought of in passing, but not realized!  Some of the advantages he mentioned were:

  • helps build communities throughout the world and increase understanding of other people/culture
  • can encourage thinking outside of one’s own box
  • an “outlet” for people who work or live in isolated environments (people who work by themselves)
  • individual’s own passion and identity can be channeled/expressed  (i.e. able to re-engage employees who may have a passion for this way of communication who don’t normally have external, customer facing job duties, companies can tap that passion in positive ways for the company)

Of course, from a HR point-of-view, there are Disadvantages to social networking as well, the presentation pointed out some of these such as:

  • can breed over reliance on this form of outreach, instead of using good-ole face-to-face (F2F) communication
  • can INCREASE isolation of some people (instead of F2F, just tweet or text someone)
  • can breed in-the-box thinking, by connecting with ONLY those who have the same thoughts/views/opinions
  • commercialization of social networking can lead to “commercial content”.  An example was given of getting paid by a company to blog/tweet/text about a company’s products

The main point of the discussion is that as HR professionals, we should learn & understand this form of communication better and then capture the good that social networking presents itself.  Although there needs to be boundaries set, rules and procedures written, communicated (at least annually!!) and enforced at the company, HR should think of ways to capture the natural tendency of employee’s creativity.  Social networking is an avenue which our way of thinking could broaden and realize (again) that other generations do not view the world in the same way as we do.  Social networking is growing and no company policy will stop it, denying the fact that employees want this form of communication will not change it.

Mr. Dixon concluded that the marketing & sales functions of organizations and businesses will continue using social networking for their purposes.  Therefore, it will be natural for employees to want to extend those efforts and include their personal touches outside of business.  HR leaders need to better understand the power of social networking and look for ways to integrate them with work tools to allow employees and business to operate more efficiently.  Social networking is a tool, not a world unto itself and people simply want to connect to other people, therefore social networking is just one of the tools available for them to connect.

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